Careers

6 things you should never say to your boss

Whether you're preparing for an annual performance review, contract negotiation or salary discussion, there's no time like the present to make sure you know how to communicate professionally.

Knowing how to speak to your boss plays a big role in whether or not you get ahead at work. In fact, the CEO of a $16 billion business says the way you write emails can make or break your career.

Here are several phrases career strategists say you should avoid at all costs when communicating with your manager:

1. "Why does Jane get to do the more important and exciting projects? Why don't I?"

Why it's a mistake: This type of statement suggests that you are questioning your boss's judgement.

"They won't like that," says Mark Moyer, career and business strategist at Compass Points Advisors. "They may have very sound reasons, or simply prefer Jane to you."

What to say instead: Approach it from a positive perspective, Moyer suggests.

He recommends saying something like, "I'd love to have the chance to work on the project. What can I do on my end to allow you to consider me for that opportunity?"

Andy Bernard, fictional character on NBC's "The Office," is an example of an employee who doesn't know how to communicate professionally.
NBC Universal
Andy Bernard, fictional character on NBC's "The Office," is an example of an employee who doesn't know how to communicate professionally.

2. "I can't do that now. I have other priorities to take care of."

Why it's a mistake: Bluntly refusing to do something won't go over well with your boss. Instead of explaining your position or asking for help prioritizing, you've just shut down the line of communication.

What to say instead: Moyer suggests saying, "I've got a variety of tasks I've been assigned that are under deadline. In your opinion, based on who's asking me to do these, how would you prioritize them?"

Framing your situation that way tells your boss what is on your plate, without being off-putting. Plus, you'll get help prioritizing your tasks.

3. "I'm not good at that. I can't do that."

Why it's a mistake: While you may think you're being honest, those phrases make you sound like you're somebody who doesn't want to learn and grow, according to Rachel Kim, career strategist at SoFi. It also calls attention to your weaknesses.

What to say instead: Kim suggests saying something like, "X is an area I would love to grow. Do you have recommendations on how I can grow that muscle?"

4. "That's above my pay grade."

Why it's a mistake: Professionals who feel underpaid or under-appreciated will often use this retort, Kim says. And it's a big mistake.

"If you're able to prove that you can take on responsibilities above and beyond your job description, it can be great leverage for future conversations about your a raise and/or a promotion," she says.

What to say instead: If you're being given a big new responsibility, have a conversation about it. Kim suggests saying, "That sounds like a great opportunity for me to stretch my skills. Can we discuss what it could look like for both the short-term, in terms of managing my priorities? As well as long-term, perhaps a change in responsibilities or pay, if I'm successful?"

5. "You should give me [a raise, a project, a title]."

Why it's a mistake: "Should" rings particularly harsh and "give me" also sets off alarms and makes you sound entitled, Kim says.

What to say instead: If you feel like you deserve a raise or a promotion, take a more collaborative, problem-solving tone, the career strategist suggests.

Kim suggests saying something like, "I've been thinking about some of my accomplishments over the last year and would love to discuss ways of leveraging that further to meet both the company goals as well as my own professional ones. Can we discuss?"

6. Minute-by-minute updates of where you are when you're running late for work.

Why it's a mistake: Your boss can forgive you being late, but he or she can get easily annoyed or overwhelmed by how you inform them. Sending "endless" texts "detailing every minute" of your trip can really overwhelm or anger your boss, career expert Carlota Zimmerman says.

What to do instead: If you're going to be late, contact a supervisor as soon as you know.

Zimmerman suggests saying, "Hi, this is Joe, due to unforeseen circumstances, I'm running X minutes late. I apologize, and will do my best to be in the office ASAP."

By adjusting the way you speak and write, you'll not only feel more comfortable approaching your boss, you're also more likely to get ahead.

Check out mistakes to avoid when drafting a work email

Video by Richard Washington.